Raging Fans – The Southwest Airlines Way

Southwest Airlines

A Lousy Southwest Flight That Left Me LUVing Them Anyway

As I will no doubt say many, many times in the future…I LUV Southwest Airlines.

I could go on and on as to why – and I most certainly will in future posts because they are a business model that I believe EVERY business should study.

They exude excellence…except for this last Tuesday.

Would you like to know six simple and common sense ways that you can retain your customers – in fact have them brag about you – after you drop the ball?

Then read on. That’s exactly what Southwest did this week.

I fly out of my home town – Omaha, Nebraska. It’s a medium sized airport with a fair amount of traffic, but it’s no LAX by any stretch of the imagination. If you arrive at my airport an hour early, you’re golden. No problem-o. Ever.

Until Tuesday.

I am a raging Southwest fan. To prove it, check out all the redundant links in this post. I’m hoping you take the time to go visit their site. There’s nothing in it for me – I just think they are THAT GOOD. I have flown close to if not more than 100 flights with them over the last year.

So anyway…

I showed up one hour and 10 minutes early and the line to the Southwest counter was a couple hundred feet long…which it never is. They typically move people through their lines (and planes) like clockwork.

It appeared as if one of the check-in kiosks was intermittently malfunctioning. Maybe they were short-handed, too. Who knows?

But the point is…travelers who are in a hurry to get to their destination don’t give a damn whether or not the reason they missed their flight was a good one or not. They just want to get there. I was getting perturbed.

The line wasn’t moving like usual and my time was quickly ticking away.

Southwest is normally so punctual with boarding, departures, and arrivals that I began to get nervous. The line took forever by Southwest standards.

I was becoming increasingly convinced that I was missing this flight.

By the time I got up to the counter, the guy who was helping me strapped a label on my suitcase that I’d never seen before. A fluorescent yellow one that read, “LATE.” This is how the conversation between us…and my brain…went:

MY BRAIN: “Awww, crap! Now what???”

MY MOUTH: “So, what does that tag mean?”

SW GUY: “Since you checked in less than 30 minutes before the flight, we can’t guarantee your luggage will make it on the flight. We’ll do our best, but if it   doesn’t make it, you’ll be responsible for picking it up when it arrives on the next flight.”

MY BRAIN: “Sonofa@#*ch!!! I wasn’t late…YOU were the ones who delayed us all! You HAVE to be kidding me!”

MY MOUTH: “Well…I was here pretty early…but ok.”

Realizing that he probably wasn’t personally responsible for my situation, you can see that I decided to keep all my more colorful words (and the exclaimation points that went along with them) in my head.

I rushed up the escalator making deals with God regarding what I was willing to trade for a short security line.

Yeah, I know. God doesn’t barter or negotiate usually – but I was desperate.

I wasn’t sure if I’d hacked him off recently, or if (as I have always suspected) he finds me flipping out over stuff out very, very funny…but the line was not short. It was long and slow.

Eventually I got through security with about 30 seconds to spare before boarding. As I pulled my shoes back on and re-strung my belt, I looked up at my gate. Either I had missed my flight, or something else was going on because no one was lined up…and it was time.

First Major Point…
Think about this: An airline was boarding late and I was surprised.

I’m not surprised when rain is wet. I’m not surprised when ducks quack or when the sun shines…but I was surprised that a commercial airline was boarding late.

That’s Southwest. Always reliable. Consistent quality. Anything else from them is downright shocking.

Taking notes? Always reliable – Consistent quality.


The relief I felt that I hadn’t missed the flight was sweet but brief.

I walked up to the gate and a couple pilots were standing there looking as befuddled as everyone else – so I started talking to them.

Second Major Point…
When was the last time you had a real, sincere, respectful conversation like you would with a neighbor or friend with ANY airline employee? They usually avoid eye contact, speak to you as if you’re an inconvenience, and have kind of an aloof attitude. Not Southwest. Always sincerely friendly. Predictably helpful.

One more time: Sincerely friendly – Predictably helpful.


The pilots explained to me that I had just missed an announcement saying there was a crew issue and they were waiting for a replacement. In other words, someone called in sick.

Long story short we boarded 35 minutes late, took off 30 minutes late, arrived only 15 minutes late – and my luggage got on the flight after all. So they clearly made a concerted effort to fix everything that had gone wrong.

Additionally – the gate agent, the flight attendants, and the captain on board all repeatedly apologized over the intercoms to the passengers for the delay.

Third Major Point…
Customer service comes first and they take responsibility when they fail to meet their customers’ expectations.

Hmmm: Customer service first – Taking responsibility when you fail.

By the time we arrived, all my frustration and anger over the delay was gone. When those wheels touched down, I was again proud to be a Southwest raging fan.

What does this mean to you?


Let’s look at those six qualities that I noticed – even during my worst experience as a Southwest customer.

  1. Always reliable
  2. Consistent quality
  3. Sincerely friendly
  4. Predictably helpful
  5. Customer service comes first
  6. Take responsibility when you fail

My point is that those six qualities – if adopted company-wide in ANY organization – could go a long way to procuring and keeping raging fans, don’t you agree?

As a customer, if someone treats you in those six ways every single time you deal with them for an extended period of time – are you or are you not more apt to forgive them when they have an off day?

When you and those in your company exhibit those qualities all day every day from the top to the bottom of your organization…you create raging fans just like Southwest does.

What about you?
I want to hear about your raging fan experiences.


About the Author

Gary is a battle-tested sales and marketing pro, copywriter, coach, and business strategist who teaches how to become someone worth following on Reboot Authentic. Connect with Gary on Google+ and Twitter.

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